Both conquests are regarded as periods of heightened economic prosperity, cultural diversity and influence, and extreme territorial reach. Justinian 1 rose to the position of Emperor in 527 and started conquests into Europe and North Africa pushed back Germanic tribes and revived Greco-Roman culture throughout the Mediterranean. This cultural restoration also applied to his home of Constantinople, which, as a result of its location, was a hotbed of trade and multicultural interaction, which influenced the entirety of Byzantine culture. After participants in the Nika Riot (those who were displeased with Justinian’s rule) destroyed multiple religious buildings, Justinian took the initiative later to restore these buildings, a fitting act for a man attempting to restore his empire in the same fashion. From this, the architectural wonder Hagia Sophia was born; Byzantine Architecture expert Sarah Brooks states that it “set a standard in monumental building and domed architecture that would have a lasting effect on the history of Byzantine architecture. ”
Justinian also issued the well-known “Code of Justinian” from 529-534, which completely revised past Roman law, laid out Justinian’s new contributions, and served as a reference of law throughout the empire. This code of law also influenced the lawmaking of countless nations to come. Along with this cultural and judicial shift, the Byzantines were also dedicated to Orthodox Christianity, taking any opportunity to remove influence of Hellenism and other Pagan religions from their conquered lands.
The Umayyad Caliphate began its expansion as the Byzantine’s reach began to wane. It commenced with Muhammad’s visions of the angel Gabriel speaking to him, and some time after, he gathered followers who adhered to his message, however it was not well received by Meccan elites. He and his followers fled to Medina and established the basis of Islam, the backbone of the soon-to-be Caliphate. After gathering an army of converts, they marched on Mecca and succeeded in taking the city. From there, the Muslim Empire began to spread throughout the Middle East and North Africa. In its height, during the Umayyad Caliphate, it extended from India to the Visigoths in Spain (whose reign they ultimately ended). Caliphs at the time issued construction of mosques and other prominent structures throughout their territory, most notably being the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, inspired by the design of Byzantine churches and their famous dome structures. Damascus served as the Umayyad version of Constantinople, housing the Caliphate and his administration.
The Muslim people also brought religion alongside increased trade and cultural exchange; Muslim people far from the Middle East promoted increased interactions with those people whose lands they were occupying, and as such, also promoted conversions of people to Islam. The Umayyad Caliphate brought Islam close to the level of influence of Christianity and Judaism, and countless people in territories occupied by the Caliphate are still practicing Islam, and in the cases of the Middle East and North Africa, it’s still the state religion of most.
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